By Smiksha Singla and Charlize Alcaraz
Erika Araujo, an alumnus of Ryerson’s Newcomer Entrepreneurship Hub, is supporting the Latino community with her new online store, the Mexican Collective Store, a part of her business called Ixiim.
She wanted her company to reflect her Mexican roots, and thus named it Ixiim, which translates to corn in the Yucatec language, also called Maya or Yucatec Maya.
“If you go into Mayan history or Mayan culture, it says that the creation of all humans came from the corn. I really wanted to show the significance of my culture in my business.”
As the founder of the store, Araujo launched her online store during the early days of the pandemic.
The Newcomer Entrepreneurship Hub, organized by Ryerson and the Scadding Court Community Centre, provides a hands-on testing and training program for newcomers in Canada and connects them to product testing opportunities, business ownership training and networking.
Araujo enrolled in the program in March 2020 after she saw a post about it on Facebook. She said that one of the benefits of the program is that early-stage entrepreneurs are able to get direct mentorship from business experts.
“It basically helped me to organize my ideas a little bit more as a business,” she said. “You have more personal advice and they get more intimate with your ideas…I found so much support with them.”
Araujo said she wanted to empower other women by opening her business, so her first business venture was opening a café in 2017 with an in-house art gallery and a Mexican boutique. In her gallery, there were approximately 15 women intrapreneurs who used the space to sell their products.
She wanted her company to reflect her Mexican roots, and thus named it Ixiim, which translates to corn in the Yucatec language, also called Maya or Yucatec Maya
She used the café to sell her food and would often invite other women to host temporary pop-up stores to sell their products and gain first-hand business experience. She also hosted cooking sessions and would teach easy recipes to children.
Araujo, however, eventually sold the place after a year and a half because an establishment near her café was undergoing construction, affecting the traffic of potential customers entering her business.
Araujo said she launched the Mexican Collective Store during the pandemic so people could have access to authentic Mexican food without compromising on quality or taste. With the Mexican Collective Store, they could order pre-made food or fresh ingredients and Araujo took it upon herself to deliver each package personally, once a week.
“I saw a lot of people getting into quarantine, [staying] in their homes. They don’t want to go out because they’re scared to contract the virus,” she said. “But there was no authentic Latin food delivery and I found out that this need can be met in the community.”
Araujo immigrated to Canada in 2008 with her husband and child. She said adjusting to Toronto as a newcomer was filled with lessons and growth. The degrees she had earned in her hometown, Mexico City, were invalid in Canada. Araujo also said she had to learn proper English to communicate and would often end up feeling homesick.
Although her current venture revolves around cuisine and business, Araujo’s employment background was in nursing. “Before coming to Toronto, I used to work in the surgery room for the government,” she said, adding that she had to stop working for three years to take care of her child after immigrating.
“It was hard, I had to send my daughter to daycare, take care of her, while my husband earned [money] for our household.”
As a result, she started cooking traditional Mexican recipes to comfort her family and make them feel at home. “I started feeling really positive in the kitchen,” she said. “I felt like I found a new passion.”
With the help of her husband, who took on more work to support the family, Araujo was able to enroll in a culinary program at Humber College in 2014.
In the days leading up to her graduation, Araujo said she faced numerous challenges entering the industry. She realized that fine dining restaurants wanted more experience than she had, and she was often asked if she “‘just finished culinary school at the age of 34.”
“If you tell me, ‘you cannot do this,’ the chances that I will show you that I can do it are going to be very high”
She described herself as being turned away from job opportunities because she lacked expertise in culinary arts.
“I have this spirit to always do the opposite; I became a mom when I was 16. I always considered myself rebellious,” Araujo said. “If you tell me, ‘you cannot do this,’ the chances that I will show you that I can do it are going to be very high.”
So, she carved her own path and created Ixiim, the first implementation of the Mexican Collective Store. Araujo then embarked on a journey developing her own recipes and making food for friends and family.
Much like other restaurants, she started an online store to adapt to COVID-19 protocols in 2020, which forced many businesses to transition their operations digitally. That’s when she founded the Mexican Collective Store, with the help of the distributor contacts she made through the Latin community.
It didn’t take long for the orders to pick up, according to Araujo, as she already had a handful of customers she found through friends and family. Within days of her launch, she saw an influx of orders and was asked to cater several events.
“I’m not just cooking and I’m not just having a business,” Araujo said. “I’m trying to promote my culture in a way that I can be a voice of my people, I can be a voice of my community.”
“I can use this opportunity so that people know more about Mexican food, more about the Mexican story.”